Town councilors could send a resolution to the Maine Legislature urging a statewide ban on the use of plastic bags.
By Leslie Bridgers, Staff Writer
Windham doesn’t plan to pave the way on banning plastic bags.
But the idea, proposed by local eighth-grader Sierra Yost, could be considered on a broader scale.
On Tuesday, the Windham Town Council will decide whether to send a resolution to the Legislature urging a statewide ban on the use of plastic bags.
Sierra, a student at Windham Middle School, made a presentation to the council last month asking for the town to ban plastic bags and charge 10 cents for non-recyclable paper bags at the checkout counters of stores larger than 2,500 square feet.
Although councilors were intrigued, town attorney Kenneth Cole warned that municipalities don’t have the authority to levy a tax on bags. Windham could pass an ordinance requiring stores to impose a fee on certain bags, he said, but they would have to “be prepared to litigate the issue,” for which there’s not much legal precedence.
Maine Municipal Association spokesman Eric Conrad has said he’s not aware of any Maine town or city that has such a ban.
Similar bans are already in place in some cities nationwide, but Town Manager Tony Plante noted that cities in different states have different powers and authority.
Cole recommended that the council ask the Legislature to impose a statewide tax or give municipalities the authority to do it themselves.
The council last week directed Plante to draft a resolution encouraging the state to consider the ban and asking for support from local legislators and other Maine communities.
“The idea is to embody a lot of the features and principles that were in (Sierra’s) proposal,” Plante said.
According to a draft, the resolution asks retail stores in town to stop offering single-use plastic shopping bags and certain paper bags, and encourages residents to use reusable shopping bags. It also asks local legislators and other Maine municipalities to support a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and paper bags made of less than 40 percent recycled material, or legislation allowing municipalities to charge for those types of bags.
Sierra says the resolution is a step forward, but she’s “a little” disappointed that the council seems to favor it over an ordinance.
“If we ban them in Windham, I think other towns will follow suit and a resolution like this won’t be necessary,” she said.
She still hopes the council will consider an ordinance to ban the bags and is trying to drum up more support before Tuesday’s meeting by showing a movie called “Bag It” at the middle school today.
Also planning to attend the meeting Tuesday is Sara Vanderwood, who represents Hilex Poly, a South Carolina-based plastic bag manufacturer which runs a campaign against bans like the one Sierra proposed.
Vanderwood says there’s evidence that reusable bags are linked to health issues, and noted that 75 percent of bags are reused or recycled. “This issue is more complicated than it appears,” she wrote in an email.
Councilor Tom Gleason agrees, and said he doesn’t see Windham leading the charge against plastic bags.
“I don’t want the liability for it. … I’d rather let the state handle it and do what the state does,” he said. “It’s a shame, but I don’t see it happening at all.”
State Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, who’s running for state Senate, said he would consider sponsoring a bill to allow towns and cities to adopt their own rules, but wouldn’t support a statewide ban on plastic bags.
“I think that the climate is not right to do that,” he said. “I believe there would be tremendous opposition.”
Plummer said he thinks people don’t like the idea of being told what type of bags they can use.
“I’ve already heard people say, ‘If Windham bans them or puts a tax on them, I’ll just shop in Westbrook,’s ” he said.
Sierra had hoped that her hometown would take that risk and lead the state in banning the bags.
“I thought Windham would be the bigger person here,” she said, “but obviously they aren’t.”